An informational piece on what it was like in ancient Rome.

Salutations! Gratitude! Apologies! Download this list of words to help you speak like a Roman the night of the party… and decode what others are saying to you.


When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

Who Said It: St. Ambrose
When: 387 A.D.
The Story behind It: When St. Augustine arrived in Milan, he observed that the Church did not fast on Saturday as did the Church at Rome. He consulted St. Ambrose, bishop of Milan, who replied: “When I am at Rome, I fast on a Saturday; when I am at Milan, I do not. Follow the custom of the Church where you are.” The comment was changed to “When they are at Rome, they do there as they see done” by Robert Burton in his Anatomy of Melancholy. Eventually it became “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.”


Friends, Romans, Countrymen…
Why were Romans called Romans and not Italians?
Romans were Italians – end of story. However, a Roman looked down on mere Italians, as Rome was totally dominant in its sphere of Italy.

As usual winners, Romans considered themselves as dominant, and even though eventually the other Italian peoples and cities were allied to them, they did not treat them as equals - Romans had superior legal rights, and exploited them too in commercial dealings with their allies. It was a close run thing, and when they eventually scraped home, Rome learnt and extended Roman citizenship to all its Italian allies, who, while Italians too, also became Romans.

Roman citizenship was gradually extended to other ethnics as the empire expanded. By three hundred years later, all peoples in the empire were given Roman citizenship and became Romans, whether they were Latins, other Italians, Greeks, Gauls, Britons, Spaniards, Syrians or other ethnicity.


FAMILY TIES: The Social Ladder


  • Senatorial Class (aka the senators)
    • This class was political and dominated by nobles whose ancestors included at least one consul.
  • Plebeian Class
    • This class was based on economical standards. One could formally be enrolled in this class based on his stable minimum amount of money and could only be elevated if elected into the Senate. This was seldom and hard to do.


  • Commons: All other freeborn Roman citizens
  • Latins: freeborn residents of Italy and of certain other Roman municipalities who had some legal rights but were not full Roman citizens.
  • Foreigners: all other freeborn men and women who lived in Roman territories.
  • Freedpeople: men and women who had been slaves but had bought their freedom or been manumitted. They were not fully free because they had various restrictions on their rights and owed certain duties to their former masters, who now became their patrons, but they could become citizens if their former masters were citizens and they had been formally manumitted.
  • Slaves: slaves were born into slavery or sold into slavery through war or piracy. Slaves were the property of their owners by law, but by custom some slaves (especially urban, domestic slaves) might be allowed their own savings with which they might later buy their freedom, or their masters could manumit them, so some mobility into the previous class was possible.


BRAGGING RIGHTS: Your Identity in Rome

It was the public opinion of an individual that dictated a Roman’s worth. Because of this, of this, good deeds were rarely done unless the deed could draw much attention and praise. With public judgement was king, Romans tried to elevate themselves in the eyes of their peers in order to climb the social ladder. Any achievement by an individual was blatantly bragged about to make absolutely sure everyone knew of their good deeds. Citizens who wre too dignified to do the bragging oneself, simply found others who would boast for them. The credit a Roman gained among his peers was immediately used to advance their political fortunes; all in the hope of finally achieving that distant goal - a seat in the Roman senate.

MORAL OF THE STORY: In Rome, where nobility, military and political leadership were all intertwined, there was no end of bragging, showing-off and a boundless supply of flattering rumours. So should it be at your party.


More on the Gladiators and their Games!

GLADIATOR OATH: Learn it. Love it. Repeat it at the party for kicks. "I swear to be burned, bound, beaten, or die by the sword in pursuit of honour in the arena."

As the contests became more organized, gladiators became more specialized.
There were five types of gladiator, each with their own unique weapons.
The Mirmillones were heavily armed and wore helmets decorated with fish.
Thracians carried just a shield and scimitar, making them much quicker on their feet.
The Retiarii were armed with just a net, a long trident and a dagger.
Samnites had a sword, an oblong shield and a helmet with a visor.
The Bestiarii fought wild animals.
Which type of gladiator would you be?

Unsuspecting spectators
At least one emperor ordered his guards to toss unsuspecting spectators into the arena, for various reasons. The victim may have previously angered the emperor. Or, the victim may have been a complete stranger but the emperor disliked the way he was behaving in the Coliseum of Rome. Sometimes the emperor’s motive was simply to amuse himself by randomly selecting a spectator to meet his death in the arena.

One emperor participated
Commodus was the only emperor to fight in the Coliseum of Rome, which he did many times. He killed but was never killed. His matches were rigged by selecting opponents who were under-armed, poorly skilled or physically impaired from previous fights). He is the person portrayed as the malicious emperor in the Academy Award winning movie, Gladiator.

Audience segregation
Spectators were seated in the Coliseum of Rome by rank, social class and gender. The emperor had his own “court side” box. Senators were allocated choice ringside seats. The rich & well-connected had the next best seats. Male commoners (the largest audience segment) sat behind them. Women were relegated to the upmost tier – except for those trying to survive in the arena.

Some gladiators gained freedom
If a gladiator earned a reputation for fighting well and bravely in the Coliseum of Rome, the roaring crowd would implore the emperor that he be liberated. If the request was granted, the gladiator was handed a wooden sword, signifying that he was a free man and would never have to fight again.


Chariots of Fire!
Chariot Racing was one of the most popular ancient Greek, Roman and Byzantine sports. Chariot racing was often dangerous to both driver and horse as they frequently suffered serious injury and even death, but generated strong spectator enthusiasm.

In the Roman form of chariot racing, teams represented different groups of financial backers and sometimes competed for the services of particularly skilled drivers. These teams became the focus of intense support among spectators, and occasional disturbances broke out between followers of different factions. The conflicts sometimes became politicized, as the sport began to transcend the races themselves and started to affect society overall. This helps explain why Roman emperors took control of the teams and appointed many officials to oversee them.

The sport faded in importance after the fall of Rome in the West, surviving only for a time in the Byzantine Empire, where the traditional Roman factions continued to play a prominent role for some time, gaining influence in political matters.
For more on Chariot Racing




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